On Sunday, Feb. 11, U. S. military officials announced the discovery of evidence that Iran supplied military devices to extremist Shiite groups in Iraq. The New York Times reported the weapons exchanged were some of the most lethal used during the Iraq war, responsible for over 170 American deaths.
The weapons included squat canisters, mortar shells, and rocket-propelled grenades. The officials claimed, based on general intelligence, that the weapons were smuggled into Iraq with the authorization of Iranian leaders for specific use against American troops.
The lack of direct evidence combined with the anonymity of the military officials who made the connection has increased skepticism towards the claims and the Bush administration.
"We're trying to strike the right tone here," a senior administration official said Monday. "It would have raised the rhetoric to major decibel levels if we had had a briefing in Washington."
Critics, including several from Congress, say this announcement has contributed to the already vulnerable state of American credibility. Criticism has been focused on the undertone of secrecy with which the information was released.
Democratic and Republican officials questioned not that the weapons were shipped from Iran to Iraq, but whether the shipment occurred via the authorization of Iranian leaders.
"I'm not doubting the provenance of the weapons, but rather, the issue of what it says about Iranian policy and whether Iran's leaders are aware of it," said George Perkovich, a nonproliferation specialist at the Carnegie
Endowment for International Peace in Washington.
The credibility of the American claims has been questioned both domestically and abroad.
Iran has denied the claims that its government authorized the sale. Iranian government spokesperson Mohammad Ali Hosseini, stated to reporters in Tehran, "The United States has a long history of fabricating evidence."
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed the claims in an interview Monday on Good Morning America. "We are asking for peace, we are asking for security and we will be sad to see people get killed, no matter who they are."
"I think that Americans have made a mistake in Iraq and unfortunately are losing, and this is a shame for Americans of course, and that's why they are trying to point their fingers to other people, and pointing fingers to others will not solve the problem," he said.
The accusation and criticism from both sides comes at a time of increased tension between Iran and the United States. The United States has imposed uranium sanctions on Iran, and encouraged the tightening of such sanctions among its various European allies. The sanctions are intended to curtail the development of Iran's nuclear development program.
Iran has declared that it will not stop its nuclear program despite United States-set deadlines. It claimed the program is for peaceful purposes only.
Iran has, however, made it known that any act of hostility or aggression will be met with force. It blames much of the unstable status of Iraq on U.S. actions.